Monday, December 18, 2006

I Wish I'd Done Something Else

...but not something very different.

The FT reports today on a survey from the CIPD which headlines with the ostensibly alarming statement that a third of graduates 'rue' their degree choice.

The thing is, the article actually then goes into the findings of the survey, and the results seem actually reasonably positive. Graduates who started work in 2000 have "enjoyed rapid improvements in both real and relative earnings", with salaries increasing by an average of 55 per cent since they graduated, which sounds pretty healthy. And 'most students' (an unquantified amount, but one I expect is rather high (edit: now the story has hit the Guardian, I see I am a soothsayer - it's over 90%)), would have gone to university if they had their chance again, so aside from a vague yearning to have perhaps done another subject (one I'm certainly prone to when when I see the earnings of solicitors), graduates seem quite happy with university.

It's almost as if the journalist wants people to believe that the findings are bad!

But it's difficult to assess how good that data is, because the survey's not currently available online and I can't therefore check the methodology. Some clues are available. The graduates starting salary is quoted as £19,451, which is about 2k north of the real figures, and there's a whopping gender pay gap of 14 per cent. Put together with the fact that it's the CIPD we're talking here and I suspect we're looking at London-based professionals, which also implies a prevalence of private-sector managerial or financial service employment for the men, and perhaps a larger proportion of public-sector employment (still, despite what the Daily Mail might tell you, lower paid) for the women.

One interesting point is that the chief economist of the CIPD, John Philpott mentions that many graduates "will be unable to fulfil their wish to retire early." The UK Graduate Careers Survey from earlier in the year made the hugely entertaining finding that 4% of graduates this year expected to have earnt enough to retire by the time they were 30. If young people are being that unrealistic, then it is not a failing of the education or employment system.

Postscript (for now):a little bird tells me that this survey isn't out until the New Year.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Do Graduates Do? 2007

What Do Graduates Do?, the annual publication from HECSU and AGCAS, covering the intial career steps of graduates, came out last month.

256,460 UK-domiciled graduates got first degrees from UK universities in 2005, the first time that over a quarter of a million graduates were produced. That's up 1.4% on 2004, which indicates a slower rate of increase than in previous years. 206,965 replied to the destination survey that makes up WDGD, which is a pretty decent response rate of over 80% - this is a good survey (the Higher Education Statistics Agency's Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education survey, to be precise) with good data.

The proportion of women graduates increased again this year. 57.7% of respondent graduates were women.

71.7% of graduates were either working, or combining work and study, six months after graduation.

13.9% of graduates went on to further study or training, with 2.8% going on to teacher training.

6.2% of graduates went on to study another higher degree, another minor fall of 0.1% on last year.

Unemployment was marginally up, 0.1%, on last year, to 6.2%, but still much lower than the figure of 6.9% for 2003 graduates. Graduate unemployment does seem to be a bit lower than usual in the last couple of years.

About 65% of those working six months after graduation were in jobs that required a degree by the standard classifications, which must be an awful blow to the 'degrees are worthless' brigade, but is not too bad a result - of course, the remaining 35% tend to move into better jobs over time.

(About 10% of a given graduate cohort don't get graduate jobs, and under 3% end up long-term unemployed. This seems to have remained about constant since the 80s.)

Starting graduate salaries averaged £17,697. I don't think they'll break 18k this year. There's loads of stuff on individual subjects which I'll get to later. Keep it short and snappy, that's (hopefully) my motto.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Labour Market Information

More from the Leitch Report. Oh yes, the fun never stops around here.

Buried away in the report (Page 91, Section 5.23, thanks for asking), is this little gem.

"Labour market information (LMI) provides a context in which a firm makes an investment decision. At present, there are various sources of labour market information for employers. However, there is little co-ordination between different sources, meaning that in some instances they deliver contradictory information. As Chapter 4 sets out, effective LMI is an essential tool for SSCs to fulfil their role. The Review recommends that SSCs have primary responsibility for gathering and disseminating LMI, within a common framework.'

Now for those of (cough) us who produce and use LMI, this is very interesting - even though it's just a recommendation and needs a bit of work (a common framework for a start) to get together. An integrated national LMI resource would be a colossally useful tool, and in theory, the SSCs are in a good position to deliver it. In practise, though, there are a number of problems to be anticipated. Firstly, the SSCs certainly don't cover the whole economy and, as stated in the Report itself, are poorly defined and sometimes overlap. Secondly, and at least as seriously - where is the expertise? The SSDA's magnum opus, the excellent Working Futures report, was written by the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick - an excellent team, but conspicuously not part of the SSCs themselves.

The SSCs published a fair amount of LMI over the last 18 months or so as part of the Sector Skills Agreement process, but of varying quality, and it's often quite hard to find. The SSCs in general have also been accused, with some justification, at being poor at LMI for graduates and above - and some feel that they are not great communicators. This is not true for all of them, of course, but for this to work, all the SSCs have to get it right. I wonder if it will.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More What Do PhDs Do-ery

My reader (hi John) has probably noticed that I didn't post much for a while, and that's because I was a bit pressed for time, what with graduate employment not researching itself and whatnot. This isn't so bad because it means that there's a backlog of things I can write about (yes, let's accentuate the positive on this). Excuses over now - let's start writing.

'What Do PhDs Do' was the first attempt to take a look at the destinations of PhD graduates in the UK in a systematic way, and it made some interesting findings about the outcomes of doctoral study - not least that most PhD graduates don't go into academia - much to the surprise of everyone involved.

The sequel is now out (ok, it's been out a while), which takes a look at regional PhD study and employment as well as migration. Now, this is based on data for graduates from 2003 (data for 2004 graduates are available here, but in much less detail), but the findings are applicable in most cases to the current state because PhD employment is not terribly volatile at the moment. There is little to massively shock anyone in there, but this sort of work is useful in that there is a lot assumed about PhD outcomes, but not a lot known. In time, this work (which is continuing), will allow us to do some things that we can't really do very effectively at the moment - like map PhD employment trends.

In the meantime, the lack of volatility might change if we have a pharma industry crash, for example, but it's interesting to see where the opportunities are, both within and outside academia.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

World Class Skills

The Leitch Review of Skills is now out after a lengthy wait, and it has a fair amount to say - much of it unlikely to go heavily reported as it isn't too controversial and the report is a meaty 154 pages long.

The basic premise is this - in global comparisons, we're pretty average on the skills level of the workforce, which is fine if we want a pretty average economy. If we want a better than average economy - and we do - we're going to tackle some skills issues at basic, intermediate and high end skills - which means getting more people to pass GCSEs or basic vocational training, more people to get degrees and other vocational skills, and get employers better at offering training in general.

Some entertaining stuff early on, where Leitch describes the Sector Skills Councils as having 'conflicting objectives, the lack of a clear remit, deficiencies in performance management, and ineffective leadership' - although he later calls on them to have a key role in driving up skills demands from industry, particularly for management skills, and in SMEs.

Buried in there are some interesting statements about university education.

One key target is that he wants 40 per cent of the adult population to have a degree-level qualification by 2020. This is a much more cunning way of iterating the 50 per cent participation target, and may be even more ambitious - currently, 29 per cent of the UK working population has a degree, and by 2020, population trends suggest fewer young people than currently, so in order to drive that adult participation figure up, we may need more than 50 per cent of 18-30 year olds getting HE qualifications. Wonder if anyone will pick up on that? Interestingly, he also states that he wants an 'increased focus on Level 5 and above skills' - postgraduate qualifications for those of us who are not fluent in NVQ-ese.

Another way to put this is, by 2020, we need 5.5 million adults in the UK to have degree-level qualifications if we want a world class workforce.

This rise is to be partly led by industry skill demand, and Leitch calls on greater private investment in the university system, suggesting co-funding of university research chairs by industry and government as a possibility.

For all those who think we don't need 40 per cent of the population to have degrees, Leitch points out that we've upped the proportion from 19 per cent to 29 per cent between 1994 and the present day but that, for example, the US and Canada have both worked harder at this than we have, and they both already have 40 per cent of the population educated to degree level. In fact, Leitch reckons we might need 45 per cent of the population from 19 to retirement to get degree level skills by 2020, in order to stay competitive.

All this is before I even get onto the postgrad bits (a target for which is 'not considered to be appropriate at this stage'.)

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